If you’re looking for sixteen-year-old Emma Flynn-Mantyla, you can probably find her on the ice rink playing ringette. This fiery spirit is a talented teenager with a personality that definitely isn’t suited for the sidelines. While the heart-pounding adrenaline of team sports might leave some dizzy, Emma embraces and thrives in chaos. It is clear that years spent in frosty arenas have cultivated a sense of self-assuredness that comes in handy; especially when Emma found herself facing off against a very tough opponent.
In the fall of 2017, downtime was basically a foreign concept between school, homework, friends and practice. So when Emma’s left leg started to hurt, her family was concerned, but ever on-the-go they pushed through what they thought were familiar growing pains. There was no way to know that they had entered an unfamiliar territory.
As their oldest girl became increasingly thin and lethargic her family knew that something wasn’t right. Weeks of doctors’ appointments saw no diagnosis or explanation for Emma’s debilitating pain that “felt like someone was breaking my bones every day,” as she remembers. She was in the grip of a mysterious illness, but her bloodwork at the time — all within normal levels — gave very little insight.
They needed an answer. Eventually they would get one.
“Get Emma to CHEO now,” mom Peggy heard from their family doctor as she watched her daughter skate around the ice. Lab work and tests had slowly started to paint a picture of the battle that her body was fighting. An exhausted Emma went from the thrill of her favourite sport straight to CHEO’s Emergency Department for a diagnosis that finally came: pre B-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Emma had cancer.
While cancer can be a scary word, Emma and her family were only focused on beating it. Positive thoughts peppered every moment with unwavering consistency. “Positivity was, is and always will be key,” Peggy maintains with relentless warmth.
CHEO became Emma’s second home for three weeks while she underwent the first leg of her oncology journey and afterwards CHEO doctors gave her family the tools they’d need to take on at-home care.
While a maintenance regimen of daily oral chemotherapy, IV chemo once a month and a lumbar puncture every three months keeps Emma close to CHEO, she’s been grateful for the comfort she’s received through both the ups and downs of her medical journey. A positive side effect of Emma’s treatments was keeping her strong enough to enjoy time on the ice, but not all of the outcomes of treatment have been what Emma’s family would have hoped for.
Avascular necrosis was one of the setbacks that Emma faced as a result of her oncology medications and treatments. The bone death in her knees severely threatened her mobility and would need to be addressed in a way that would give a still-growing Emma the best chance to live her best life.
After an attempt to relieve pressure and increase blood flow through micro drilling was unsuccessful, the decision was made to perform an allograft surgery and rebuild her knee using donor bone and cartilage – a procedure usually performed on older adults. The thought of such an intensive surgery brings bouts of nervousness, but Emma is looking forward with the wisdom of someone beyond her 16 years.
Post-surgery Emma will spend about six weeks getting back on her feet and then the plan is to make her way back to her skates, enjoying her favourite winter sport with the people that love her most.